Sunday, July 24, 2016

My Crown

For the past 5 years, I've had the honor of speaking to all of the Miss Alabama contestants at the annual Miss Alabama Pageant Luncheon... just hours before a new Miss Alabama is crowned. Each year, I share a little bit of my story about how the Miss America Organization and the Miss Alabama Pageant impacted my life. On June 11th, I had the opportunity to share with them again. This year, I decided to share the full story of why I stopped competing in the Miss Alabama Pageant (and it turns out, that difficult decision ultimately led to our adoption!) So I wanted to share with all of you here, what I shared with those contestants a few weeks ago. Here's an excerpt from my speech that day...

I have always loved pageants. I actually competed in 45 pageants over 19 years before I "retired". I started competing in this program (the Miss America Organization) because it was my dream to be Miss Alabama – and then Miss America someday. I got the chance to pursue that dream twice – once in 2004 as Miss Gadsden Area, and again in 2005 as Miss Auburn Opelika Area. I loved it. I loved serving my community as a local titleholder. I loved everything I learned during my years of service, the scholarship money I earned, and the sparkly crown I got to wear. I loved the friendships I made, and I loved this week each year at Miss AL. But after my 2nd trip to Miss Alabama, I began to hear a still small voice inside my heart – calling me away. (Now I knew this had to be the voice of God, because I do NOT walk away from rhinestones and sequins willingly ya’ll! I would still wear a crown everyday if it was socially acceptable!)

There’s a worship song that I really identified with at that time. The lyrics are “we fall down, we lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus”. I felt like God was literally asking me if I would lay down my crown. 

It took a lot of prayers and tears, and months of God prompting my heart, before I chose to be obedient. I didn’t want to give up on this dream, but God was making it clearer and clearer to me that He had a different plan for my life. I was brokenhearted. But I knew that I had a choice to make, and I chose to be obedient (even though I had no idea where this path would take me). 

In 2007, God’s plan became a little bit clearer.  The fact that I wasn’t competing anymore, meant that I could say yes to a mission trip to Swaziland, Africa – the EXACT week of the Miss Alabama Pageant. So I did. And while my friends were putting on their 5 inch heels and glamorous evening gowns, I was sitting in the dirt with some precious orphans halfway around the world. 

It was on that trip that I met my husband, Rusty - whom I absolutely would have missed, if I’d still been competing at The Miss Alabama Pageant. That was also the trip where God burdened my heart for children in need… which led my husband and I to create a charity that would help orphans and vulnerable children around the world. It’s called The Sound of Hope, and for the past 6 years we’ve helped provide consistent holistic care for more than 200 children in 4 countries. But my story doesn’t end there... because this new path God put me on also led me to Thailand.

My husband and I lived in Thailand for almost 4 months back in 2011, setting up a new Children’s Home for The Sound of Hope. We absolutely fell in love with the country, the culture, and the children. We fell so much in love, that we began the process to adopt a child from Thailand. And for the past 4 years I’ve mentioned it up here, in this little speech – how we were still hoping, and waiting, and praying for our little girl.

Well friends, THIS year – I get to make a very special announcement. After more than 4 years of working and waiting and praying – we are finally matched with our beautiful little girl – Kate Suwichada Jackson.

Now – here’s where the story gets really good. We chose to name our daughter Kate, but we wanted to keep her Thai name as her middle name too. Suwichada is her given Thai name. Of course, before we officially decided to keep it – we called a Thai friend to ask what it meant. Now imagine my surprise, when our friend informed us that Chada means CROWN.

My daughter’s name literally means crown. So when God asked me to lay down my rhinestone crown all those years ago… He knew that He had a much more precious crown in store for me.

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I went on to tell that room full of exceptional young women that God has an extraordinary plan for each of their lives - no matter whether or not they left with a crown on their head that night. And that is absolutely true. I truly believe that God has "exceedingly, abundantly" more in store for us than we could ever imagine... and my story is living proof of that.

There are so many things that have confirmed that this little girl we were finally matched with is absolutely our daughter... and the meaning behind her name was the one to top them all. For those wondering, a "chada" is actually a specific type of ancient Thai crown. It's worn by Thai royalty (the King, Queen, Prince or Princess, specifically) or by a Thai performer playing the part of royalty in a classical dance. So not only does our daughter's name mean "crown" - it is specifically a type of crown worn by royalty. So all those nights we prayed for our "little princess" - we were praying for a daughter with a name that means "royal crown". How fitting!

I haven't even held our daughter yet... but when I look at her photo, into her beautiful face, I cannot imagine missing her. To think that all those years ago, in my stubbornness, I could have held onto a cheap, rhinestone crown and missed out on her?! I can't even fathom it. I am so grateful that I was willing to hold my (small) dreams in an open hand - because it gave God the opportunity to take them and turn them into something much bigger and more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. 

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Sweet Kate, you are my most favorite, most beautiful, most precious crown! I cannot wait for the day I get to hold you in my arms, and tell you just how valuable you are to me! I would have been thrilled if I'd been crowned Miss America all those years ago... but that happiness doesn't even come close to the JOY I feel in knowing that I get to be your mommy. I love you baby girl!


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